Mirrors and Windows
Go through your photographic archive and select around ten pictures. Separate them into two piles: one entitled ‘mirrors’ and the other entitled ‘windows’.I&P p.74
● What did you put in each pile and why?
● Did you have any difficulties in categorising them?
You may like to repeat the exercise with some different images and record your responses. It would be interesting to see you place the same image in both camps and review your reasons for doing so.
And remember the cmat,
For the sake of Part Three, however, we’ll define these terms from the point of view of the photographer. That is, if the photographer is an insider, we’ll frame it as a mirror; if they’re outside looking in, we’ll frame it as a window. You may wish to challenge these notions in your responses to exercises and assignments. That’s fine, as long as you use effective strategies and critical analysis to back up your point and give reasons for your methods and intentions.I&P p.74
[30Nov] My first reaction was that nearly all my photographs would be windows as I believe that the main and underlying purpose of most images is (or should be) show what something looks (or looked) like. I believed that this notion would manifest itself in my photographs.
Overnight, having assembled, but not analysed the EyV images, I thought that while I regard Szarkowski’s M/W notion useful in pigeon-holing other peoples photographs and ultimately in categorising the photographers themselves, it is difficult or impossible or pointless to so analyse ones own photographs as one knows too much about them, too much peripheral baggage for the categorisation or serve any purpose. Let’s have a try and see what happens.
First run – EyV
[29Nov] There are 88 photographs on the EyV image summary page. I can’t recall whether I gathered them consciously through the course of only at the end (though I was populating the gallery throughout). Take every 8th one.
It was interesting to note how I felt assembling them, wanting to take my preferred images instead of those chosen strictly arithmetically.
The first photograph taken for EyV Asg.1, Square Mile where I showed an image I associated with each of the stations from where I live into the centre of London. Once a daily commute for many; now, due to Covid, not so many; and now, for me, the route into town for the next exhibition (when gallery life returns) or a photo-walk. Now retired, I went out unusually early to photograph the commuter grind at New Eltham. 19th June 2018, 8:25.
I would categorise this as solidly window: it says nothing about me, although it does engender a faintly smug satisfaction with retirement.
‘if the photographer is an insider, we’ll frame it as a mirror; if they’re outside looking in, we’ll frame it as a window’ (I&P p.74). Window (though I don’t entirely endorse the criteria, see earlier comments.
From Exercise 1.3 on leading lines, this image taken on Brighton Pier is an enduring favourite from the course. It was a chance image with a random subject entering and about to leave the frame this subverting the ostensible purpose of the image and render it pleasingly ambiguous. The image itself is fully Window: while this analysis tells the reader something about this viewer, this is inevitably the case with anyone’s comments on any photograph, their own or someone else’s.
The subject of Asg.2 was a particularly favourite church, St Stephen Walbrook. Seeking to literally document the building, I asked the verger to point out the key artefacts and included them. It is the most mundane of the photographs selected for the Way and entirely W.
Another favourite, this from Exercise 3.2 exploring long exposures, a spinning 1954 (year of birth) half-crown, heavily processed because the original image was quite faint. With no obvious indication of what the subject might be, this says something about my tendency towards fiddling in post-processing, perhaps enough to establish Mirrorhood. Score 3W / 1M.
I really would have preferred to have a more interesting image to introduce, but arbitrary rules are still rules. Balancing the fun that was had with long exposures of spinning coins, was the failure to capture a balloon bursting with a quick one for the same exercise. All Window.
Another tedious choice for the system, taken for Exercise 3.3. It is not worth the effort of explaining its genesis, a more interesting question is why on earth did I include it in my EyV image highlights? I can only suppose that I thought that I should show some from every course Part, or perhaps (unlikely) thought it enigmatic is some way rather than merely pointless. I got better, but this background information might make it a Mirror. Score 4W / 2M.
Back on track with an image I like. Asg.3 was concerned with demonstrations, this from Youth Strike 4 Climate on 15Feb19. The image itself is Windowlian, but I will confess to some concern on the day at being an old man photographing a demonstration populated by teenage schoolgirls – if I had been doing that through a school fence, I would have had my collar felt. Most of my output was Brexit or Austerity demos, where i was more comfortable.
We are settling into a pattern here – the images are largely windows but personal insights disclosed while describing the contexts are Mirrorial – the latter is inevitably the case. Nevertheless I’m outside, here’s a window.
From Asg.4 at the Barbican all Window, no confessions to offer (unless finding an unexpected fondness for Brutalist architecture should be considered so).
A mundane technical exercise (5.1) on deploying depth of focus. Motive, subject and execution all Windowlian.
The last two are both from Asg.5. The title was Plants, although it was at one point The use, abuse, misuse and misrepresentation of plants and this is where fig. A10 came in, dying plants in a recently redecorated Eltham Hight Street. The background, incidentally, is the new cinema, the top of which is depicted in fig. B1 below.
Fig. A11 is an interesting jumble of people, chaotically scaled , it looks as though it could be a montage. Anyone who didn’t see the South Bank that summer will probably need it explaining that the trees were, for no apparent reason, wrapped in floral pattern cloth (or was it plastic?). Neither image made the final cut for Asg.5 although fig. A11 snuck in in the rework.
The Windows have it, 9-2.
Second run – C&N
[2Dec] C&N is much more likely to reveal a Mirrovian streak as a lot of the output was self-satisfying self-portraiture.
The selection here was every fifth image from the all the photos page.
From an early exercise (1.2) which revealed that I unequivocally dislike street photography because of its tendency to belittle and demean. I was attracted by the contrast between the randomness of the leafless branches and bulky, anonymous cinema building in the background: it was relief from the street photography I was supposed to be executing. Very much from the outside, so a Window, but the back-story is quite revealing. W1
Exercise 1.4, image manipulation. It uses a pretty sardine tin from Waitrose and a residual image from EyV Asg.1 (see fig. A1 above) for the crowd. As I described in the exercise write-up, I have an interest in historic images of sardines (I cite Facchetti and by Jagodic). It would be possible to construct a reading of my personality from my choice of subject matter, but really it is just a technical exercise satisfied with a passing whim using materials to hand. W2.
These are from Asg.1 where I intended to contrast the interior decoration of ornate and austere religions, failed to find any of that latter that would let me photograph them, and switched with a week left to juxtaposing my aging body parts with those of a Rodin sculpture. Fig, B3 is one or the V&A originals, fig. B4 one of the submitted composites. This is all about me getting old and all Mirrovian in intent. W2 M2.
I reworked Asg.1 unprompted to meet the Dolly Parton Challenge. It is about me dressing up and performing for the camera. Pure mirror. W2 M3
This image, drawing deeply on Marc Riboud’s Young girl holding a flower, demonstration against the war in Vietnam, Washington, 1967, was created to illustrate Henry Reed’s Lessons of War: Naming of Parts for Exercise 2.3. All whimsy, no documentary intent, all mirror. W2 M4
Figs. B7 and B8 are from Asg. 2 which I titled Forbidden Zones, photographing subjects not normally seen (by this means) whether by tradition, taste or edict. B7 is from a dark corner of the John Soane Museum, where photography is not permitted. B8 might be from the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons: but maybe I faked it.
Both were taken with a a £13.99 Spy Pen Camera bought on eBay for this project and both are wholly documentary. W4 M4.
Figs. B9 and B10 are from Asg.3, which was titled in the course material Self Portrait so we know where the score is heading. I chose to emulate the self portraits of some eminent practitioners of the past (all old dead men as my tutor pointed out disapprovingly). W4 M6
A quick and pleasing aside here. Salkeld mentions [in Reading photographs, 2018] Sherrie Levine who (perhaps) exposes the questionable value of art (and made a living for herself in doing so) by exhibiting her photographs of photographs by good photographers. Inevitably, Salkeld has photographed a Levine and presents it here as After Sherrie Levine, 2012. Equally inevitably I, like, I am sure, many others, am going to take this one step further and bring to the world After Salkeld … After Levine … After Rodchenko, fig. A1.course notes, C&N
Final score: W4 M7
[2Dec] It has been clear to me since encountering Szarkowski’s M/W notion a few years ago that my natural tendency is towards the Windows end of the image spectrum because, as stated above, I believe the purpose of most photographs should be to show what things looked like at the time. Using the output of previous courses is, in some ways, a misleading guide to my photo-proclivities because I am being forced to photograph subjects that I would not normally address. But it is equally possible to argue the contrary view that it is only when extended that my true nature will be revealed.
For now, I will conclude that I am a natural Windower with nascent Mirror tendencies occasionally emerging.
I&P Exc 3.1 References
Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [I&P]
Salkeld, R. (2018) Reading photographs: an introduction to the theory and meaning of images. London: Bloomsbury.